Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVING CHEMICAL, PHYSICAL, AND BIOLOGICAL PROPERTIES OF DEGRADED SANDY SOILS FOR ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

Title: Phytoremediation: A green technology to remove environmental pollutants

Authors
item Paz-Alberto, Annie -
item Sigua, Gilbert

Submitted to: American Journal of Climate Change
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 22, 2013
Publication Date: April 4, 2013
Citation: Paz-Alberto, A.M., Sigua, G.C. 2013. Phytoremediation: A green technology to remove environmental pollutants. American Journal of Climate Change. (2):71-86.

Interpretive Summary: The global problem concerning contamination of the environment as a consequence of human activities is increasing. The rapid build-up of toxic pollutants (metals, radionuclide, and organic contaminants in soil, surface water and ground water) not only affects natural resources, but also causes major strains on ecosystems. Interest in phytoremediation as a method to solve environmental contamination has been growing rapidly in recent years. As discussed in the paper, green technology that involved “tolerant plants” has been utilized to clean up soil, surface water and ground water from heavy metals and other toxic organic compounds. Phytoremediation involves growing plants in a contaminated matrix to remove environmental contaminants by facilitating sequestration and/or degradation (detoxification) of the pollutants. Phytoremediation using “green plants” has potential benefits in restoring a balance in stressed environment. It is an emerging low cost technology, non-intrusive, and aesthetically pleasing using the remarkable ability of green plants to metabolize various elements and compounds from the environment in their tissues. Phytoremediation technology is applicable to a broad range of contaminants, including metals and radionuclide, as well as organic compounds like chlorinated solvents, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, explosives, and surfactants. However, phytoremediation technology is still in its youthful development stages and full scale application is still inadequate. As with all new technology, it is important to proceed with caution.

Technical Abstract: Land, surface water, and ground water worldwide, are increasingly affected by contaminations from industrial, research experiments, military, and agricultural activities either due to ignorance, lack of vision, carelessness, or high cost of waste disposal and treatment. The rapid build-up of toxic pollutants (metals, radionuclide, and organic contaminants in soil, surface water and ground water) not only affects natural resources, but also causes major strains on ecosystems. Interest in phytoremediation as a method to solve environmental contamination has been growing rapidly in recent years. This green technology that involved “tolerant plants” has been utilized to clean up soil and ground water from heavy metals and other toxic organic compounds. Phytoremediation involves growing plants in a contaminated matrix to remove environmental contaminants by facilitating sequestration and/or degradation (detoxification) of the pollutants. Plants are unique organisms equipped with remarkable metabolic and absorption capabilities, as well as transport systems that can take up nutrients or contaminants selectively from the growth matrix, soil or water. As extensive as these benefits are, the costs of using plants along with other concerns like climatic restrictions that may limit growing of plants and slow speed in comparison with conventional methods (i.e., physical and chemical treatment) for bioremediation must be considered carefully. While the benefits of using phytoremediation to restore balance to a stressed environment seem to far outweigh the cost, the largest barrier to the advancement of phytoremediation could be the public opposition. The long-term implication of green plant technology in removing or sequestering environmental contaminations must be addressed thoroughly. As with all new technology, it is important to proceed with caution.

Last Modified: 8/30/2014